Yesterday, while writing on the corporate deadliness of The Wire‘s Stringer Bell, I noted in passing, some structural resemblances between that character and Breaking Bad‘s Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring. But, in many ways, Gus goes well beyond Stringer in bringing the corporate to the corner. In particular, in his channeling indiscriminate violence into murderously well-directed and precise outbreaks of mass murder, his attention to the crystal meth manufacturing process, his deference to the men of science, his marriages of the industrial engineer, the accountant, and the factory foreman to the military general and the assassin, Gus outdoes Stringer. Gus builds his empire by an energetic, quietly confident, and slick union of corporate manufacturing schedules and assembly line management with the trade of the traditional drug dealer and thus imbues the brutal, paranoiac violence of the perennially threatened drug trade with a strategic shop-floor vision. Stringer is merely a dealer; Gus owns the means of production, the machinery, and the workers.
Gus is modern in a very particular way: he facilitates his projects with the precision, efficiency and sterile beauty of technology, relying all the while on the powers of science and its practitioners to sustain and realize his vision. It is never too subtle a point in Breaking Bad that some of Walter’s initial allegiance to Gus is underwritten by his acknowledgment of the scientific and technological excellence of the manufacturing unit Gus has put together. Morally corrupt scientists in hock to those who facilitate their deadly work; think, perhaps, of German scientists in the employ of the Third Reich; science and efficiency, in the service of perversion.
Gus is thus too, a classic bureaucrat, deploying science to bring about the most desired and deadly of outcomes. He conspires, arranges, sets up the blade and makes it fall; and yet, while he is a wheeler and a dealer, he remains smooth, never greasy, mannered, never affected. Interestingly enough, Gus is entirely desexualized, and even here, his sexual austerity sets off the rigor of his management style. His attention to careful detail and his measured responses, conquer, or at least keep under control, the awesome, murderous brutality of the cartels. That management style ensures that one of Breaking Bad‘s most floral and lurid moments–the mass poisoning of the Mexican cartel–possesses a curiously contained edge. For the true genius of the mass murder of the cartel’s top leadership did not lie in Gus’ use of poison, his deceit, his willingness to expose himself to deadly risk, it lay in its logistical details, in Gus’ planning for the aftermath: the medical supplies, the doctors, the getaway mechanisms. Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. Indeed.
In Gus Fring, we were brought face to face with a business talent par excellence. When he finally meets his match and is killed, we recognize it was because for a brief, fatal moment, Gus allowed his anger to get the better of him, to let passions rule where dispassionate calculations had always held sway.